Executives, managers, the business and popular press all tend to make the same false assumption about the future of technological change. Every time a new product category is introduced, they assume that the older category will soon cease to exist.
But that’s not the way it works. The hottest new breakthrough technologies do not necessarily replace older ones. Instead, they often coexist side by side because the old technology has its own unique profile of functional strengths that the new technology never fully replaces.
We tend to greet innovation with an either/or assumption, either we use the old or the new. But this is not an either/or world we live in; it’s a both/and world—a world of paper and paperless, online and in-person, digital and analog, old media and new media. Here are a few examples:
- Paper and Paperless
In the late eighties, many futurists predicted that by the late nineties, offices would be paperless. At that time, I was not making this incorrect prediction because I was using the Both/And Principle. Paper is inexpensive, portable, and can be folded and tucked in a pocket or purse. You can quickly write and erase on paper, and it is an inexpensive display medium that does not need power. So instead of asking, “How can I eliminate all paper?” a better question would be, “What is the best use for paper and the best use for digital?”
- Online and In-Person
When the Web took off in the mid and late 1990s, experts predicted that we would have no more shopping malls. But, the malls are still with us. The same prediction was made for brick and mortar stores. The logic was that a physical store can only hold a few hundred thousand items while a virtual store gives you access to millions of items or titles 24/7.
So why do retail stores continue to survive and many are even thriving? Brick and mortar stores and malls are social gathering places that create a sense of community, which technology can’t fully replace. In addition, many products are difficult to buy without physically seeing them and trying them out. Others require a knowledgeable person to help you make a decision. Why did Apple open an Apple Store? If you have been there, you know why.
- Old Technology and New Technology
Recently there was a big debate in the business press about the future of computing. With our main personal computer becoming our smart phone and tablet, will desktops and laptops become obsolete? The answer is “no.” Realize that we still have main frames; we are just using them differently now than we did five years ago, ten years ago, and most certainly twenty years ago. If you have a smart phone and or tablet, you are already using your laptop differently, and perhaps much less.
When looking at new technology, remember the Both/And Principle and focus on integrating the old with the new to create more value than either have by themselves.